Overcoming Distrust in the Delta

with Dolphus Weary | November 22, 2007

Growing up in racially segregated Mississippi in the 1950's, he had plenty of reasons to be angry at the oppression he felt all around him. On today's broadcast, hear Dolphus Weary, author of I Ain't Comin' Back, tell how he overcame poverty and prejudice to become executive director of Mission Mississippi - the leading resource for Christian reconciliation and racial healing in Mississippi.

Growing up in racially segregated Mississippi in the 1950's, he had plenty of reasons to be angry at the oppression he felt all around him. On today's broadcast, hear Dolphus Weary, author of I Ain't Comin' Back, tell how he overcame poverty and prejudice to become executive director of Mission Mississippi - the leading resource for Christian reconciliation and racial healing in Mississippi.

Overcoming Distrust in the Delta

With Dolphus Weary
|
November 22, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Dolphus: We've always had to say let us in, let us into your schools, let us into your community, let us in.  We've had to ask those questions –

[blues music]

 Everywhere you go, you still have to think that I'm black and how well am I going to be accepted and all those kind of things.

[blues music]

 We've always had to deal with white people.  White people have not always had to deal with black people.

[blues music]

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll try to get a better understanding of what it must have been like to grow up black in America.

[blues music]

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  I know you get concerned whenever we have a guest on our program who has any kind of a musical background, like when Michael and Stormie Omartian were here, and we kind of got sidetracked because I was asking him about records that he had produced, or the time Steven Curtis Chapman was with us, and we were reminiscing about one of his early concerts that I had attended and all of that.

Dennis: I am musically challenged.  How else do you want to say it, Bob?

Bob: I get concerned anytime we have a former college basketball – or anybody, anybody who ever even picked up a basketball, you can get detracted, sidelined and start talking basketball with them, right?

Dennis: I can.

Bob: Because you played junior college ball.

Dennis: I did.

Bob: On a national-caliber team, right?

Dennis: Yes, we did, we were ranked – well, we beat the number 2 team in the nation on our home court.  Of course, we paid off the referees.

 Our guest here on the program, Dolphus Weary, knows all about …

Bob: … paying off the refs?

Dennis: … small college ball, and the home court advantage, don't you, Dolphus?

Dolphus: Absolutely.

Dennis: Yeah, yeah, even though he played for what is now the Masters College basketball team.  Isn't that right?

Dolphus: That's right.

Dennis: In fact, you were the first African-American basketball player, is that right?

Dolphus: Well, two of us went out at the same time.  We both went out in 1967-68.  Jimmy Walker and I went out to be the first two African-Americans to go to then LA Baptist College, Masters College, and to live on campus and to play basketball.  So we were pioneers.

Dennis: And it's just too bad, Bob, that there's not a basketball goal …

Bob: … here in the studio?

Dennis: Here in the studio, because I think I'd take my coat off.

Bob: You think you could take Dolphus?

Dennis: Well, I thought I could until he told me that his specialty was defense.  That scares me.

Bob: You started trash talking to that, too.

Dennis: Well, some of our listeners don't know Dolphus Weary, but Dolphus is president of Mission Mississippi.  In fact, Dolphus, why don't you just share with our listeners a little bit of what your ministry is all about?

Dolphus: The ministry of Mission Mississippi is to really look at the church and began to ask the question, how can the church demonstrate race relations?  How can we work with the body of Jesus Christ throughout the state of Mississippi to begin to say to the non-Christians that our Christian faith is really greater than our race?  And so we're going throughout the state of Mississippi.  We have a positive message for the church, and we're trying to bring together the church across our racial and denominational lines just to begin to communicate that and get people to think it and get people to act on it, and so we're excited about being a part of Mission Mississippi.

Bob: And if you can do that in Mississippi, you can do it virtually anywhere, can't you?

Dolphus: It can be done anywhere if it can be done in Mississippi.

Bob: I mean, the issue goes, really, bone deep in Mississippi, doesn't it?

Dolphus: Absolutely, and for so long Mississippi has been known as the state – whenever you think about race relations you think about Mississippi and then you think about Alabama.

 We believe that God has called for us, as we lead Mission Mississippi, to really change that image, but it's not about changing the image of the state as much as it is changing the hearts of Christians to think different.  If we could think different about who we are in Christ Jesus, how much impact it will have on our witness to the rest of the world.

Dennis: You know, I couldn't agree more.  In fact, Bob, our relationship, Dolphus and I, go all the way back to serving on the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability , which is a Christian watchdog group, holding over 1,000 organization – ours among them – accountable for how we use our money, and Dolphus was on the board, I was on the board, and he slipped me a copy under the table one day of his book, "I Ain't Coming Back."

 And it's really a compelling story.  In fact, Dolphus, you made the statement one time, you said "Someday I'm leaving Mississippi, and I ain't never coming back."  Now, why did you say that?

Dolphus: Growing up in Mississippi, growing up in a family of eight children, my father deserted the family when I was four years old, living in a three-room house, and sometimes when I tell people they hear me say three bedrooms.  Anytime there are nine people living in a house, every room is a bedroom in a three-room house.

Dennis: Actually, it was called a "shotgun" house.

Dolphus: It was a shotgun house type, you know.

Dennis: Explain what a shotgun house was.

Dolphus: Well, a shotgun house is a house where you know if someone would shoot through there, the bullet would go completely through the whole house.  It wouldn't have to go off to rooms because it's designed that way, to just be sort of a one-looking house and everything is in the same place.

Bob: A room in the front, a room in the middle, and a room in the back, and that's it.

Dolphus: That's it.

Dennis: There were eight of you.

Dolphus: Eight children and my mom.

Dennis: One bedroom.

Dolphus: That's right.

Dennis: One bed and a mattress.

Dolphus: There were mattresses all over the place, mattresses all over the place.

Dennis: How did you stay warm, because as I read your book, your family was not just poor, your family was really poor.

Dolphus: Well, let's see, we had the woodstove in the kitchen, and then we had the fireplace in the bedroom.  And so you make a big fire, and everybody tried to get warm before you jump into bed, and you cover up with as much stuff as you can and hope you'll survive the next day.

Bob: Did you know how poor you were, growing up?

Dolphus: We just knew that we didn't have.  One of the things I used to always look at, there was a neighbor friend.  There were 10 children in the family, but there was a mom and dad in the house.  I used to always figure that the reason we were poor was because I didn't have a dad.  And so we understood that we didn't have anything, but we were not labeled – we did not label ourselves as being poor.  That was just the way it was, it was a way of life.

Dennis: You had a significant man who stepped into your life, however – your grandfather.

Dolphus: Yes.

Dennis: In fact, he gave you a lickin' one day.

Dolphus: I've told people, I say, you know, the worst whipping I ever received, my grandfather was trying to teach me how to pick cotton with both hands.  I mean, it's like, okay, here I am, 9, 10, 11 years old, and I'm out there picking cotton, but I'm also daydreaming.  I'm dreaming about how in the world can I get out of this cotton patch?  And so every time I started daydreaming, I would take one hand and lay it on my knee, and I'd take the other hand and fill it up with cotton, and then I'd put the cotton in my sack.

 And my granddad would say, "Dolphus, pick cotton with both hands."  And then, all of a sudden, I'd start picking cotton with both hands again, and then I'd start daydreaming, I'd go back to laying one hand on my knee and then filling it up with the other hand and put it in my sack.  He told me that about four times.

 The fifth time he didn't say anything.  He reached and pulled up one of those cotton stalks, and he gave me a wonderful whipping.  You know, in today's standards it would be child abuse, it would be child abuse because my mom had to get something that we call "lard."  Now, you guys have known about lard …

Dennis: No, no, I know about lard.

Dolphus: No, you don't know about no lard, you read about it in a book.

Dennis: No, I do know about lard.  My grandma and grandpa had lard – they used to render hogs, and they used to make it.

Dolphus: Absolutely, absolutely, and for us that was the way we cooked.  We used the lard, but lard was also used to soothe pain.  And so my mom had to grease my back down with lard because of the whipping I received.

Dennis: Your mom was a courageous lady.  Now, your home, this shotgun house we're talking about here, was a half-mile from any running water?

Dolphus: Right.

Dennis: You guys had to go get the water to prepare the food if you had food.

Dolphus: If we had food.  That was a spring that was about a half-mile from my house, and it was on a person's place, we used terminology, it was on a white person's place.  He allowed us to go to his spring and to get water.  So we had to walk a half-mile to get the water, and we had a pond that was closer to the house, and the water was really dirty-looking.  We used that water for taking our baths and all of that.  But when you start talking about the drinking water, we'd go about a half-mile to get water that we would use for cooking and drinking and so forth.

Bob: You were growing up right in the middle of an explosive time in American history.  In the '50s and the '60s, race relations in the South were at a fever pitch.  We had civil rights legislation being considered nationally.  Did you grow up with – a lot of young boys grew up very angry at the situation they were in.

Dolphus: Yes, and I think what happened was, though, my mom kept us stable, sane.  We understood the problem, we understood the problem of racism and injustice.  I remember – and I talk about it in my book how, you know, when I was about 14 years old, the guy whose land was near ours – we had one of those 40 acres.  You know, when you all promised us 40 acres and a mule, well, anyway, we had 40 acres of land.

Dennis: Hey, you're older than me.  I didn't promise you any land.

Dolphus: So we had this 40 acres, and this guy whose land was near ours happened to be white.  He moved his fence over and took about five acres of our land.  We wanted to go tell him – "we" meaning the children – wanted to go tell him to move his fence, and he couldn't do that.  But mom was wise enough to tell us, she said to us, she said, "You know, who is going to stop him from getting his buddies and come into this house and taking you out and beating you and lynching you?  If you go and ruffle his feathers, what's going to stop him from retaliating?"

 And she understood that we couldn't turn to the law, we couldn't turn to the justice system.  We were sort of controlled by the situation around us, and so she stopped us from moving, she stopped us from doing a lot of things that we thought that we probably would have done.

Bob: Now, did you attend a racially segregated school all through elementary school and high school?

Dolphus: Absolutely, and, you know, one of the sad things for me that I do remember as an incident was I used to sit at home and see the new school bus come by my house and know I couldn't ride that bus.  I could hear my bus coming two or three miles down the road because there was that dilapidated, raggedy bus, and both of the buses went to Mendenhall. The inferior bus when to Hopper, where I went to school, the newer bus went to Mendenhall High School where the white kids went to school.  I knew that.

 I used to take my textbook, Dennis, and I would look in the textbook where they had all these names of people who had the book the years before, and there were six and seven names in the textbook, and I knew none of those names.  I didn't know them as upperclassmen.  I knew none of those names, but I came to understand that the reason was that we received the hand-me-down textbooks from the white school, and we had to use those older hand-me-down textbooks.  That kind of thing really began to impact me when I was in high school.

Dennis: You know, I think there are a lot of white people who honestly, Dolphus, they're not prejudiced, they simply do not have the foggiest idea of what this type of oppression looks like, what it feels like, and what actually occurs in the day in and day out lives of those people of color.

Dolphus: I think it's isolation.  The more isolated you are from something, the less impact that it has on your life.  We have to understand that the average white person, 25, 30, 40, 50 years old, probably has never had to think racial, never had to think, "Can I do this?"  "Can I not do it?"  That I will not be stopped because I am white.  You've never had to think about it.  That's why I think affirmative action is so hard for whites to understand is because now white people have to think about being a certain race or a certain color.

 Black people, everywhere you go, you still have to think that "I am black, and how well am I going to be accepted," and all those kind of things, because the whole culture is designed black-white, in the sense that we've always had to say, "Let us in, let us into your schools, let us into your community, let us in."  We've had to ask those questions.  We've always had to deal with white people.  White people have not always had to deal with black people in the sense of real dealing.

Bob: I was in elementary school when my mom and I went to see a movie together.  We went to see "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"

Dolphus: My, my.

Bob: It was the late '60s, and I remember coming home and going, "Well, Mom, why were those people all concerned?  He was a nice guy?" and she began to talk about her background, her history with race relations.  I then read the book, "In the Heat of the Night," and I came to – I'd never heard of separate bathrooms and separate drinking fountains and separate lunch counters.  I had no idea a world like that had existed.

 And Mom talked to me about growing up in Flint, Michigan, and her dad worked at the General Motors plant in Flint, and so she grew up hearing about – it was a slur that was used – her dad coming home from the GM factory and talking about these no-goods who were coming in and taking the jobs away from the white people.

Dolphus: That's right.

Bob: And that was the culture she'd grown up in.  So her impression was these are just bad people who come and take away jobs from white people.

Dolphus: Right, and, see, the reason they were bad is because the doors were open for people to walk in.  You see, before that time only white people walked in those doors.  Okay, now, all of a sudden, the door has to be opened a little wider to include somebody of color.  And so the people who were in the room who controlled everything now have to give up some controls and give up some power, and that's frightening. 

 And so it's always easy for those of you that are white to look at something and say, "There's nothing wrong with this."  I remember serving on a board of a college, a Christian college in Mississippi, and we were sitting in the boardroom, 25 white men, two white females, and I'm the only African-American.  The student body is 22 percent African-American.

 I looked at those guys and said, "Guys, we don't need an affirmative action program here.  We're Christians, we've got the power to hold the Spirit.  Why don't we just look at the picture and ask the question, "How can we change the picture."

 But, you see, to the average white person that was in the room, there was nothing wrong with the picture, you see, the picture is okay.  White people are supposed to be in control, white people are supposed to have the power, so there is nothing wrong with the picture.

 You ask the question, we have to help people understand or at least look at the picture through somebody else's eyes.  Start developing relationships with people of color, start developing relationships with folk, and when you develop a relationship with somebody, you begin to hear things from them through their eyes.

Dennis: Yes, there's no doubt about that.  In fact, I was talking with a good friend of mine, Crawford Loritts.  You know Crawford and love him as I do.  Crawford is one of my closest friends.  He was telling me about his son in Chicago who is going to school there, and he got pulled over, and the police officer was just in his face saying he was playing his car radio too loud.

 Now, I know this young man.  Maybe he had his car radio up a little loud, but the young man had the sense about him to not get into a verbal bantering with that police officer but kept his cool and tried to appeal to say, "What did I do?" 

 And, basically, you know what?  In that situation, that was discrimination, that was big-time discrimination against a young man of color who is a real gentleman.  Now, if I didn't have that relationship, that kind of thing doesn't happen to my sons, but it happened to my friend's son and, all of a sudden, my radar goes up on a whole new level.

Dolphus: And that experience helps you to understand a little bit more about what Crawford has gone through, what he does go through, and what African-Americans go through, what minorities go through on a regular day in day out basis.  Does race matter?  Absolutely, it matters.

 We are trying to help people understand that it shouldn't matter in the body of Jesus Christ.  We might expect something like that from someone who doesn't know Jesus, but it's time for those of us who love Jesus to begin to say, "Jesus, help us to understand that when we look at each other, we need to see you in the lives of other people."

Bob: I heard you say recently that most of us white folks would like to have some one-time big event that we could throw that would kind of fix everything, and we could move on.

Dolphus: That's what I'm discovering – more and more that the average white person wants to have some kind of big event, some kind of one-time thing, some kind of two-year thing, that would wipe out this racial problem, but it's too deep.

 You know that, many times, when I'm talking to someone in the white community, we judge history different in terms of race relations.  When I'm talking to somebody that's white, they see race relations only in terms of the last 20 or 30 years.  Boom.  The average African-American sees it over the last 50 to 100 years.

Dennis: Right.

Dolphus: You see?  And we want to celebrate too quickly where we've come from in the last 20 years without dealing with some of the infrastructures that need to be changed.

Bob: Well, and even as you say that, I'm thinking back – I mean, the civil rights legislation was '65, I think, right?

Dolphus: Mm-hm.

Bob: And I'm thinking, we've come a long way, haven't we?

Dolphus: Absolutely.

Bob: But you're saying, yes, we've come a long way but you go back another generation, we've got a long way still to go.

Dolphus: Right, but you've got to also understand that because the civil rights legislation took place, it did not change the way people act.

Dennis: And you're addressing the right people right now.  You're talking to Christians, people who profess to follow Jesus Christ and who say they know God. And if we know God, then we need to reflect His heart.

 I just want to read you a snippet out of the Scriptures that reflects what God's heart is all about.  It's found in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 18 and 19 – "Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committee to us the word of reconciliation."

 Now, what that Scripture is teaching is we need to share with men how they can be reconciled to God, because God is a God of reconciliation.  But that reconciliation, after we've been reconciled to Him, we have no excuse in terms of being reconciled to our brothers, our fellow human beings who are of different color.

Bob: As you were reading that, I was thinking of Ephesians, chapter 2, where it says that "Christ is our peace; that He has broken down the dividing wall," and that's the one that the Scriptures go on to talk about the separation between Jew and Gentile, but it's equally applicable, He's broken down every dividing wall, the one that would separate black from white, the one that would separate slave from free, the one that would separate male from female – all are one in Christ in terms of worth and value and dignity, and we, as much as anybody else, ought to be advancing that.

Dennis: And that's why, frankly, for a mom with a young family, you've got to get a copy of Dolphus's book and start reading it to your kids.

Bob: My wife said to me yesterday, "I want to get a copy of that book," and I thought the same thing.  I thought we ought to read it to our children to help them understand a culture they've never experienced.  They have no idea what it was like for Dolphus to grow up.

Dennis: They don't, and it's not like going to the movie.  You're going to get more of the reality of the way it really was in a sharecropper home where there were eight youngsters, a single-parent mom, a grandfather, and, I mean, you're talking about white-knuckle time just to put food on the table.

Bob: The book is called "I Ain't Coming Back," and we've got copies of it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I want to encourage our listeners to – well, today you ought to go to our website, FamilyLife.com, if you have access to the Internet.  Go online, when you get to the home page, you'll see a red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and if you click that button it will take you to the area of the site where there is more information about this book and how you can order it online.

 You could also contact us by phone at 1-800-FLTODAY, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to do that because of the Thanksgiving holiday.  So go online at FamilyLife.com, when you get to the home page look for the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the page.  Click on that button, and that will take you to the area of the site where you need to be if you'd like more information about Dolphus's book or if you'd like to order a copy of it.  Again, the title is "I Ain't Coming Back," and we would be happy to send a copy of this book out to you.

 And we do hope that you enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving holiday.  In fact, we want to say happy Thanksgiving to you, and let you know that we're thankful for you, we're thankful for your financial support of this ministry, thankful that you listening to FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate the opportunity we have to spend some time with you each day so that we can think together about how we can make our marriages and our families even stronger.  We're glad you listen, and we appreciate your partnership with us here at FamilyLife Today.  Tomorrow Dolphus Weary is going to be back with us, and we're going to talk about the power of the Gospel to make a difference in the area of racial reconciliation.  I hope you can join us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great day, and we'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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